Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking

Princeton University Press
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In their earliest encounters with Asia, Europeans almost uniformly characterized the people of China and Japan as white. This was a means of describing their wealth and sophistication, their willingness to trade with the West, and their presumed capacity to become Christianized. But by the end of the seventeenth century the category of whiteness was reserved for Europeans only. When and how did Asians become "yellow" in the Western imagination? Looking at the history of racial thinking, Becoming Yellow explores the notion of yellowness and shows that this label originated not in early travel texts or objective descriptions, but in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientific discourses on race.

From the walls of an ancient Egyptian tomb, which depicted people of varying skin tones including yellow, to the phrase "yellow peril" at the beginning of the twentieth century in Europe and America, Michael Keevak follows the development of perceptions about race and human difference. He indicates that the conceptual relationship between East Asians and yellow skin did not begin in Chinese culture or Western readings of East Asian cultural symbols, but in anthropological and medical records that described variations in skin color. Eighteenth-century taxonomers such as Carl Linnaeus, as well as Victorian scientists and early anthropologists, assigned colors to all racial groups, and once East Asians were lumped with members of the Mongolian race, they began to be considered yellow.

Demonstrating how a racial distinction took root in Europe and traveled internationally, Becoming Yellow weaves together multiple narratives to tell the complex history of a problematic term.

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About the author

Michael Keevak is a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at National Taiwan University. His books include Sexual Shakespeare, The Pretended Asian, and The Story of a Stele.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Apr 18, 2011
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9781400838608
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Social History
Science / History
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Western readers have yet to come to terms with the fact that during much of our history very little was ever "known" about China. There was never any lack of information from missionaries and travelers and traders. But what kind of information was it? What kind of knowledge was obtainable via the lenses of religious intolerance, colonial ambition, or Eurocentrism? Travel accounts, Jesuit letter-books, or embassy narratives can sometimes seem comparatively dispassionate, even ethnographic, but one is repeatedly struck by a remarkable vagueness when it comes to discussions of the foreign, and such discussions become buried in a huge mélange of fact and fiction that is then collected, retold, or reintegrated in innumerable ways. The thesis of this book is that when Westerners discussed the Nestorian monument they were not really talking about China at all. The stone served as a kind of screen onto which they could project their own self-image and this is what they were looking at, not China. The stone came to represent the empire and its history for many Western readers, but only because it was seen as a tiny bit of the West that was already there.

This is the first detailed study in English of the Western reception of the monument since its discovery in Xi'an in 1625. It will be essential reading for those interested in East Asian colonialism, in the vagaries of cross-cultural contact between East and West, and in the way in which, from the very beginning of the period of Western presence in China, the empire was viewed as little more than an extension of European prejudices about the superiority of its own cultures, religions, and conceptual paradigms.
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With The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn challenged long-standing linear notions of scientific progress, arguing that transformative ideas don’t arise from the day-to-day, gradual process of experimentation and data accumulation but that the revolutions in science, those breakthrough moments that disrupt accepted thinking and offer unanticipated ideas, occur outside of “normal science,” as he called it. Though Kuhn was writing when physics ruled the sciences, his ideas on how scientific revolutions bring order to the anomalies that amass over time in research experiments are still instructive in our biotech age.

This new edition of Kuhn’s essential work in the history of science includes an insightful introduction by Ian Hacking, which clarifies terms popularized by Kuhn, including paradigm and incommensurability, and applies Kuhn’s ideas to the science of today. Usefully keyed to the separate sections of the book, Hacking’s introduction provides important background information as well as a contemporary context. Newly designed, with an expanded index, this edition will be eagerly welcomed by the next generation of readers seeking to understand the history of our perspectives on science.
Western readers have yet to come to terms with the fact that during much of our history very little was ever "known" about China. There was never any lack of information from missionaries and travelers and traders. But what kind of information was it? What kind of knowledge was obtainable via the lenses of religious intolerance, colonial ambition, or Eurocentrism? Travel accounts, Jesuit letter-books, or embassy narratives can sometimes seem comparatively dispassionate, even ethnographic, but one is repeatedly struck by a remarkable vagueness when it comes to discussions of the foreign, and such discussions become buried in a huge mélange of fact and fiction that is then collected, retold, or reintegrated in innumerable ways. The thesis of this book is that when Westerners discussed the Nestorian monument they were not really talking about China at all. The stone served as a kind of screen onto which they could project their own self-image and this is what they were looking at, not China. The stone came to represent the empire and its history for many Western readers, but only because it was seen as a tiny bit of the West that was already there.

This is the first detailed study in English of the Western reception of the monument since its discovery in Xi'an in 1625. It will be essential reading for those interested in East Asian colonialism, in the vagaries of cross-cultural contact between East and West, and in the way in which, from the very beginning of the period of Western presence in China, the empire was viewed as little more than an extension of European prejudices about the superiority of its own cultures, religions, and conceptual paradigms.
Western readers have yet to come to terms with the fact that during much of our history very little was ever "known" about China. There was never any lack of information from missionaries and travelers and traders. But what kind of information was it? What kind of knowledge was obtainable via the lenses of religious intolerance, colonial ambition, or Eurocentrism? Travel accounts, Jesuit letter-books, or embassy narratives can sometimes seem comparatively dispassionate, even ethnographic, but one is repeatedly struck by a remarkable vagueness when it comes to discussions of the foreign, and such discussions become buried in a huge mélange of fact and fiction that is then collected, retold, or reintegrated in innumerable ways. The thesis of this book is that when Westerners discussed the Nestorian monument they were not really talking about China at all. The stone served as a kind of screen onto which they could project their own self-image and this is what they were looking at, not China. The stone came to represent the empire and its history for many Western readers, but only because it was seen as a tiny bit of the West that was already there.

This is the first detailed study in English of the Western reception of the monument since its discovery in Xi'an in 1625. It will be essential reading for those interested in East Asian colonialism, in the vagaries of cross-cultural contact between East and West, and in the way in which, from the very beginning of the period of Western presence in China, the empire was viewed as little more than an extension of European prejudices about the superiority of its own cultures, religions, and conceptual paradigms.
Western readers have yet to come to terms with the fact that during much of our history very little was ever "known" about China. There was never any lack of information from missionaries and travelers and traders. But what kind of information was it? What kind of knowledge was obtainable via the lenses of religious intolerance, colonial ambition, or Eurocentrism? Travel accounts, Jesuit letter-books, or embassy narratives can sometimes seem comparatively dispassionate, even ethnographic, but one is repeatedly struck by a remarkable vagueness when it comes to discussions of the foreign, and such discussions become buried in a huge mélange of fact and fiction that is then collected, retold, or reintegrated in innumerable ways. The thesis of this book is that when Westerners discussed the Nestorian monument they were not really talking about China at all. The stone served as a kind of screen onto which they could project their own self-image and this is what they were looking at, not China. The stone came to represent the empire and its history for many Western readers, but only because it was seen as a tiny bit of the West that was already there.

This is the first detailed study in English of the Western reception of the monument since its discovery in Xi'an in 1625. It will be essential reading for those interested in East Asian colonialism, in the vagaries of cross-cultural contact between East and West, and in the way in which, from the very beginning of the period of Western presence in China, the empire was viewed as little more than an extension of European prejudices about the superiority of its own cultures, religions, and conceptual paradigms.
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